Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shared Histories

Yesterday the cab driver and I began talking about the recent increase of muggings in Buenos Aires. Last year, a couple of kids on a very empty street tried to steal Felipe's double bass. They didn't have any weapons on them, so although they did a good job punching the crap out of his face, they weren't able to pry the bass out of his arms. He (and I would venture to say, many Colombians) is not about to hand over his livelihood because someone tells him to in a threatening voice, or because two kids from the slums take a couple of swings at his face. "He´s used to another reality," I said to the cab driver.

"I know what he means," he said very calmly. "My father was a desaparecido (someone who disappeared during the dictatorship during the 70's). I was at the house when they took him away, and robbed us of everything of value in the house. My life completely changed after that. It takes a lot to scare me."

I was floored. "How old were you?" "10. No one wanted to take us in, because everyone was afraid they would return, and then whoever helped us would be implicated as well. In the end, a German-Jewish family ended up helping us. They had gone through something similar, you know. They gave my mother work and helped us get settled again. I started working when I was 13, I had to, so I never got advanced schooling. And I never learned English because of that."

Tomorrow night Passover begins. I'm going to a seder of the children of German Jewish immigrants. Happy Pesach. How lucky we have been to be find ourselves where we are. How lucky I am to (up to this point, knock on wood) learn of these horrors second hand.

Initially I made this without any thought to pesach or anything else other than the fact that there was no flour to adulterate the chocolate. It turned out great, and very pretty, and the perfect kind of chocolatey rich but not sweet to have with a cup of strong coffee. And then having just returned from visiting my sister in Los Angeles, I realized that it would be perfect for her roommate Allegra who has celiac. And then, as my brain sometimes works, uh, a bit slowly, I realized, no flour=passover. So this is getting made tomorrow. Next year in Jerusalem.

Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake

For the ganache:
8 oz. (225 g.) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped finely
2 c. (475 ml.) heavy cream

Place the chopped chocolate into a medium-size mixing bowl. Heat the cream until it reaches a gentle boil, then immediately pour it over the chocolate. Let the chocolate and cream sit 20 minutes without mixing, then stir well, making sure the chocolate is completely incorporated.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it cool for at least 6 hours (or overnight) in the fridge. 

For the cake layers:
6 oz. (170 g.) bittersweet chocolate (70 %)
1/3 c. (75 ml.) espresso or strong coffee (or water)
1 tsp. vanilla
6 large eggs, separated
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
¾ c. (150 g.) sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 ºF. Line a 11 in. by 7 in. rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a double boiler (or in the microwave) melt the chocolate and coffee together, taking it off the heat just when the chocolate is melted. Stir well, and stir in the vanilla.
Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until you have soft peaks. Add sugar gradually, beat on high speed until stiff but not dry. Whisk yolks into chocolate. Fold ¼ of the egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it. Make sure they are completely incorporated-- otherwise it will be hard to fold the rest of the egg whites in without deflating them, as the mixture will be too heavy. Fold in remainly egg whites gently but completely.
Bake 8-10 min., rotating baking sheet after 4 min. to ensure even baking.
Let cool completely on a rack. Portion your sheet into 6 even squares with a sharp knife.
When you are ready to assemble the cake, whip the ganache until fluffy and spreadable. Don´t overwhip it or it will turn grainy. You want to use it soon after whipping so it doesn´t firm up too much.
Move your first square carefully to your serving plate. Spread it evenly with ganache. Cover with your next square, spreading it with ganache, and continue building up your cake in the same way until you have used up all your squares. Trim the cake edges so it looks even, and then frost with the remaining ganache on the top and sides.

Como no lleva harina, esta torta deliciosa es muy útil durante la Pascua Judía.

Torta en Capas de Chocolate Sin Harina

Para el ganache (el relleno de crema de chocolate):
8 oz. (225 g.) de chocolate semi-amargo, picado chiquitico
2 tazas (475 ml.) de crema de leche

Coloca el chocolate picado en un bol mediano. Calienta la crema de leche hasta que hierva despacito, después échala al chocolate. Deja la mezcla durante 20 minutos sin revolver, después revuélvela bien con un batidor (no eléctrico) asegurándote que el chocolate este completamente incorporado y que no haya grumos.
Tapa el bol con plástico y déjalo enfriar durante por lo menos 6 horas (o por la noche) en la heladera.

Para la masa de las capas:
6 oz. (170g.) de chocolate semi-amargo (70% de cacao)
1/3 taza (75 ml.) de expreso o de cafe bien fuerte
una cucharita de extracto de vainilla
6 huevos grandes, las claras separadas de las yemas
¼ cucharita de crema tartarica
¾ taza (150 g.) de azúcar

Precalienta el horno a 190 ºF. En una bandeja rectangular de 23 cm. por 15 cm. que se puede meter al horno pon papel de hornear. En baño maria (o en el microondas) derrita el chocolate y el cafe juntos, quitando esta mezcla del fuego justo cuando se derrita el chocolate. Revuélvelo bien (la mezcla debería estar completamente suave), y échale la vanilla.
Bate las claras y la crema tartarica (en velocidad mediana si usas batidora- como no la tengo lo hago a mano) hasta antes de alcanzar el punto de nieve, es decir, cuando todavía no está consistente. Écha el azúcar gradualmente, batiendo en velocidad alta hasta alcanzar el punto de nieve, pero antes de que empiece a secar (si bates las claras por mucho tiempo, empiezan a secarse). Echa las yemas al chocolate y batelas inmediatamente para que no se cuajen. Incorpora bien ¼ de las claras a la mezcla de chocolate para hacerla más liviana. Asegúrate que estén completamente incorporadas antes de echar el resto de las claras. Sino, va a ser difícil incorporar el resto de las claras porque la mezcla estará demasiado densa, y perderás el aire que has ganado en el batido de las claras. Incorpora el resto de las claras ligeramente pero completamente. Echa la masa a la bandeja, distribuyéndola suavemente con una espatula para que cubra todo el fondo de la bandeja.
Hornéala durante 8-10 minutos, volteando la bandeja 180º después de 4 minutos, para que hornee uniformamente (casi todos los hornos tienen un lado mas caliente que el otro.)
Déjala enfriar. Parte la torta en 6 cuadros iguales.
Cuando estes listo para armar la torta, bate el ganache hasta que este liviano y untable. No lo batas demasiado o se desarrollarán grumos. Debes usarlo inmediatamente para que no se endurezca.
Con cuidado, coloca el primer cuadro de torta en el plato donde la vas a servir. Úntale el ganache. Pon encima otro cuadro de torta, y de nuevo untale ganache, y así sucesivamente hasta que gastes todo los cuadros. Con un cuchillo, empareja los lados para que se vea uniforme toda la torta. Después termina con el ganache que te sobró, esparciendolo por encima y los lados de la torta.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bichos Raros

Awhile go I walked into work with a sandwich for lunch, which is not very typical for me. My co-worker looked at it in its bag and said, "What did you bring, a peanut butter sandwich?" Yep, I replied, not really paying attention, at which point she stopped to stare at me. "I was kidding...because it´s the most typical Yanqui thing, like in the seriously brought a peanut butter sandwich for your lunch?"

Uh, yeah, I did. We are, by the way, "Yanquis" in Argentina. That would be "Yankees"...

And they find our consumption of peanut butter incomprehensible. They find the texture strange, and the concept of it as a sandwich, for lunch (as opposed to dessert- they consider it to be sweet), even stranger. I had to laugh at the difference when I went home to my parent's house in Minnesota to find an empty jar of peanut butter in the coffee-cup holder of my mom's car. "I've been meaning to fill it up at the co-op..." she said, explaining that she prefers the co-op peanut butter if she's going to eat it on its own to the Trader Joe's kind that she uses to mix into soups and sauces.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Brian invited me to an asado out in Escobar, outside of the city of Buenos Aires. A group of skateboarders from the states had come down here to shoot a skate video, and whoever was in charge of the trip wanted to give them the Argentine asado (barbeque, minus the sweet sauce) experience. So they rented a house with a quincho and a pool, and brought in a crew to make the food. We were served huge amounts of grilled beef, chorizo, and morcilla (blood sausage). Then they brought out more red meat, which they explained was ñandu. What´s ñandu? It´s like the road runner, they told us. It is, more precisely, this:

Then they brought out another meat, a white one, that tasted like chicken (what doesn´t) but more flavorful, more juicy. Yacaré, they explained. That would be:

So yeah, peanut butter. We hardly have the monopoly on weird foods, though as always what is considered strange is mostly dependent on where you are at the time. I brought peanut butter chocolate chip cookies one time to a dinner with the people from my master´s program, and they ended up loving them, even though at first they did concept very strange. This is the recipe, belatedly delivered.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ c. unsalted butter, softened

1 c. chunky peanut butter at room temperature (I used natural, which makes for a less-sweet, less traditional-tasting cookie...Jif and the like will give you that typical sweet peanut butter cookie, which I love as well...or you could add honey to your natural peanut butter until you get a sweetness similar to Jif, though the texture will be denser)

¾ c. granulated sugar

½ c. firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 Tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ c. chocolate chips

For sprinkling: 1 Tbsp. sugar, regular or superfine

Preheat oven to 350º F . In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Sift the flour along with the baking soda, baking powder, and salt directly into the bowl (I put half the flour and the soda, powder, and salt in the sifter first, and then the rest of the flour, so that the soda and powder are evenly distributed throughout), and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter and chocolate chips. Place sprinkling sugar ― the remaining tablespoon ― on a plate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crisss-cross pattern, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Galletas de Mantequilla de Mani con Chips de Chocolate

adaptado de Smitten Kitchen

1¼ taza de harina (tipo 000)

¾ cucharita de bicarbonato de soda

½ cucharita de polvo de hornear

¼ cucharita de sal

½ taza de mantequilla, a temperatura ambiente

1 taza de mantequilla de maní "crunchy" (es decir, la mantequilla de maní que viene con los trocitos), a temperatura ambiente (yo usé mantequilla tipo natural, que hace que las galletas queden menos dulces. La típica que uno encuentra en los supermercados lleva azúcar y aceite -tipo chatarra- que es con la que se hacen la típicas galletas de mantequilla de maní. Me gustan ambas, es una cuestión de gusto. Si quieres, podrías echar miel a la mantequilla de maní natural hasta que tengas el nivel de dulce parecido a la típica, esto va hacer que la textura de las galletas sea más pesada que si lo hicieras con la mantequilla de maní típica. Y si no tenés mantequilla de maní con pedacitos, puedes picar un par de puñados de maní y echárselo.)

¾ taza de azúcar blanco

½ taza de azúcar rubio, bien compacta, o ½ taza de azúcar blanco mezclado con una cucharita de melao

un huevo grande, a temperatura ambiente

una cucharada de leche

una cucharita de extracto de vanilla natural

½ taza de chips de chocolate o chocolate picado en trocitos

Para salpicar: una cucharada de azúcar

Precalienta el horno a 180º C. En un bol grande, bate las dos mantequillas hasta que las dos se incorporen y la textura se vuelva más liviana. Añade los dos azúcar y bate hasta que este muy suave la mezcla. Échale el huevo y mezcla bien. Echa la leche y la vanilla. Sobre el bol, tamiza la harina, el bicarbonato de soda, el polvo de hornear y la sal. Bate la mezcla bien. Añade los chips de chocolate y revuelve. Coloca el azucar para salpicar en un plato y deja caer una bolita de masa, del tamaño de una cucharada, al plato y voltéala para que se cubra por todos lados con el azúcar. Coloca las bolitas en una bandeja de hornear, dejando un espacio de 5 cm. entre las bolitas para cuando crezcan. Con un tenedor, aplastalas un poquito, dejando una marca como de la del jueguito del triki. Hornéalas durante 10-12 minutos. No las dejes por mucho tiempo más, de pronto se ven un poco crudas pero ya estan listas.

Dejálas enfriar en la bandeja un minuto, y después ponlas en un plato para que se terminen de enfriar. Sigue horneando el resto de las bolitas de la misma manera.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bussing and Portkeying

I love the buses in Buenos Aires. First of all, I love them because they're privately run, so the routes have no coherency (just the coherency of supply/demand, I guess), and the busses are personalized by their drivers. This means that black lights, mirrors etched with the names of sweethearts and children, Jesus portraits, and fringe are all likely to be found adorning your bus during your commute. And that Madonna or the Rolling Stones will very likely be blasting-- Argentineans seem to have special places in their hearts for both-- so much so with the Rolling Stones that “los Rollings”are referred to as a social group the same way you would talk about emos or hipsters.

They also run 24 hours a day, and a bus is just as likely to be packed at 4 am as it is at 4pm. 24-hour bus service is one of those luxuries that changes your lifestyle. Never ever having to worry about what time it is for fear of not having cheap transportation (at 1.20 pesos, or about 35 cents, it´s hard to beat) back home certainly helps the social life of the general culture. As far as my own social life, I realized when I got back to Minnesota, 24-hour bus-less, car-less (not to mention still license-less at 25), and in -10 degree weather...what can I say. My friend Lila and I decided to embark on various labor-intensive cooking projects. Tamales, which turned out delicious but no kidding as far as the labor part went. I now understand why people make them in bulk, with help- it doesn't seem to take much longer to make 10 than it does 50; it's going to take you awhile either way, and it´s the perfect kind of work for catching with people you love but don´t see nearly enough. We made various kinds of homemade pasta- sweet potato raviolis, linguine, bowties. We, along with my sister and her friend Kari, made an absolutely disgusting looking gingerbread house. Pop-rocks and cream cheese frosting? You don´t even want to know.

And we made a 9-part Indian meal after trekking down to 18 ½ St. and Central Ave. It's like Indian Harry Potter, that street only exists if you know to look for it, and then you find 20 lb. bags of basmati rice and curry leaves in the middle of the grey saline slush that is a couple of warm days in January in Minnesota. After lots of cooking and eating, it was agreed that the tamarind chutney was the winning dish-- which in my case is not that strange as I always love chutney and I love that sweet and sour tamarind sauce that they give you with the mint sauce in Indian restaurants along with papadum-- but we reached a consensus, baby. It was freaking delicious with the lemon-peanut rice, delicious with the curries, and would probably be delicious on a piece of cardboard (which means it will be perfect for Passover! That is a seriously exciting idea, no joke.) I would make this all the time if I had access to tamarind, which means that I might have to go take a bus down to the tiny Chinatown here to see if they have it-- although not having an exhaustive selection in any way, Barrio Chino is where everyone tells you to go if you can´t find something, be it marshmallows or passion fruit. I will unfortunately have to obey normal time schedules as Barrio Chino´s markets close at what would be considered a normal hour even in Minnesota.

In the U.S., tamarind is sold in blocks in an Indian, Southeast Asian, or Mexican market. After you hack off the amount you want to use, it must be soaked so you can remove the pulp from the hard fibrous part.

Tamarind Chutney

1 ½ c. boiling water

¼ c. tamarind, cut off a block

1 tsp. cumin seeds, dry roasted in a skillet

3 Tbsp. chopped dates

3 Tbsp. chopped peanuts (I used salted and roasted because that was what we had, and which worked great)

3 Tbsp. unsweetened coconut

2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

½ tsp. cayenne pepper or paprika

Pour the boiling water over the tamarind and let rest for 30 min. Meanwhile, chop all the other ingredients, roast the cumin seeds. After 30 min., using your fingers, separate as much tamarind pulp as possible from the hard matter. Strain the mush over a medium-size bowl, pressing out as much pulp as possible. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Let sit for 30 min. to allow the flavors to blend- and it will get much better over this period of time, I promise. Check for salt-- I didn't add any due to the salted peanuts, and I don't think it needs much anyway.

Chutney es una conserva agri-dulce, delicioso con comida salada.

Chutney de Tamarindo

una taza y media de agua, hirviendo

¼ taza de tamarindo, cortado de un bloque

una cucharita de semillas de comino, tostadas en una sarten seca

3 cucharadas de datiles, picados

3 cucharadas de mani, picados (usé los con sal, tosteados, que salió muy rico así)

3 cucharadas de coco rallado

2 cucharadas de cilantro, picado

½ cucharita de pimentón

Echa el agua (hirviendo) al tamarindo y dejalo reposar durante 30 min. Mientras tanto, pica el resto de los ingredientes y tuesta las semillas de comino. Despúes de los 30 min., con los dedos, separa toda la pulpa que puedas de los pedacitos duros. Pasa la mezcla por el colador a un bol de tamaño mediano, escurriendo toda la pulpa posible. Echa todos los otros ingredientes y mezclalo bien. Dejalo reposar durante 30 min. para que armonicen los sabores- va a mejorar mucho durante este tiempo, te prometo. Fijate si hace falta sal-- no la añadé debido al mani salado, pero tampoco me parece que requiere mucho.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't Cry for Me Argentina

Oh dear.

After two months of winter in the states, culminated by the type of Bat Mitzvah blowout that only exists in the Detroit suburbs (140 13-year-olds, Lady Gaga, and Motown's greatest hits, together at last), I'm back in the humidity and dengue-tinted mosquito infestation that is March in Buenos Aires. After a week of being eaten alive today we finally jerry-rigged a tulle-and-scarf covering for the double doors with the hopes of neither suffocating nor contracting life-threatening diseases while we sleep. I have high hopes.

I went to buy ice at the corner store, only to be looked at strangely and asked where I was from, that I would expect the corner store to have ice. Apparently ice is mainly sold at service stations, in huge bags. No iced coffee for me. An Argentine friend of mine picked me up at the airport, and one of the first things he told me was: all the prices have gone up. How much? 25% increase in two months. He shrugged.

Let's play a game. What's out of the ordinary about this picture? If you said: there is a plastic jug on top of the car, then you clearly aren't Argentine. (If you said: the facade and paint job is great, I totally agree.) Because of course the jugs are there to draw attention to the fact that the car is for sale. See the little paper in the window? It doesn't tell you for how much. That would just be silly. They want you to call to find out and in turn haggle over the price. Well sure.

I'm pretty happy to be back.